Gaafar's stoppage-time header keeps Zamalek hopes alive after thrilling game

Hatem Maher, Tuesday 13 May 2014

Zamalek come from two goals down to secure an exciting 2-2 draw with Wadi Degla at the death to keep alive their hopes of ending a 10-year Egyptian Premier League drought

Ahmed Gaafar
Ahmed Gaafar (L) scored the last-gasp draw against Wadi Degla in Tuesday's Egyptian Premier League game (Photo: Zamalek's official Facebook page)

Substitute Ahmed Gaafar headed home in stoppage time to help Zamalek secure a thrilling 2-2 draw with Wadi Degla on Tuesday that kept alive their hopes of winning the Egyptian Premier League for the first time since 2004.

Going to the locker room two goals behind after Wadi Degla's Mostafa Talaat and Abdel-Fattah El-Agha exposed some sloppy defending, Zamalek looked on the verge of waving goodbye to the competition they had won 11 times.

The Cairo giants needed at least a draw to remain in contention for a place in the final four-team mini-league phase but the omens looked not so good after Mohamed Ibrahim blasted a penalty against the bar 13 minutes after the restart.

The hosts continued to launch a wave after wave of attacks, finding acres of spaces but struggling to translate their dominance into goals.  

With Degla's veteran keeper Essam El-Hadary in inspired form, Zamalek huffed and puffed for long periods.

They were given a lifeline though when midfielder Omar Gaber slotted home past El-Hadary four minutes past the hour mark before towering frontman Gaafar, who replaced the ineffective Ahmed Ali in the second half, sparked wild celebrations on the touchline with a 91st-minute goal.

Zamalek won their previous match in similar fashion, netting deep in stoppage time to claim a 2-1 comeback victory over Beni Suef Telephones.

They lie third in Group B with 32 points, one behind Petrojet and two adrift of Ittihad El-Shorta with one match remaining. They must beat El-Shorta in their last group match to advance to the final phase.

Petrojet will also advance if they defeat fourth-placed Ismaily on the final round as the group race goes down to the wire.

The last round will take place next month as the league will be halted due to Egypt's presidential elections, scheduled for 26 and 27 May.

Lack of cutting edge

Zamalek were the livelier side in an exciting first half, but their lack of cutting edge cost them dearly as they were caught on the break twice, with their midfielders unable to close down gaps and central defenders committing some dreadful mistakes at the back.

Wadi Degla's 41-year-old goalkeeper El-Hadary, who is arguably the best shot-stopper in Egypt's history, pulled off a string of fine saves to keep Zamalek at bay.

He blocked a close-range overhead kick from central midfielder Moemen Zakareya and thwarted Ahmed Ali following a one-on-one situation.

Degla were gifted a fortuitous goal to go ahead against the run of play on 29 minutes.

Mohab Saied jinked towards the area after Zamalek defender Yasser Ibrahim gave away possession near the halfway line before sending a cross to the far post. Zamalek's left-back Abdel-Shafy tried to clear the danger but his clearance bounced off Talaat's forehead and into the net past stranded keeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed.

Syrian striker El-Agha made the most of another defensive blunder to double Degla's lead two minutes before the break.

A flicked-on header eluded central defender Mahmoud Fathallah whose shy challenge did little to trouble El-Agha, who side-footed the ball home from close range.

Zamalek came on with all guns blazing in the second half, with the introduction of Gaafar and pacy right-winger Hazem Emam injecting zeal.

They kept wasting goal-scoring opportunities though, including Ibrahim's spot-kick which was awarded after Emam was pushed in the area following a neatly-worked counter attack.

Gaber finally ended Degla's resistance when he latched onto a through pass and drilled into the bottom corner as El-Hadary was finally beaten.

Gaafar beat his marker to a pinpoint cross from Emam to head home at the near post at the death. He could have snatched a precious victory shortly after but his flying effort at the far post was denied by the woodwork.

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